Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Point of Punishment.

So, let’s go back to a subject I chickened out of a week or so ago: the question of punishment. I’ll keep it simple this time because my brain is getting lazy.

It seems to me that there are only two reasons to punish:

1. To correct.

2. To exact revenge.

OK, so what about the Christian notion that if you don’t ask Jesus to absolve you of original sin – or any personal sins, come to that – before you die, God will punish you by consigning you to hell fire for all eternity? That’s a bit odd because Christians also preach that God is our loving father – more than that, the best and most loving of all fathers. So let’s ask a question:

If a good and loving father punishes his child at all, does he do so for any reason other than to correct? Surely no such father would do it out of the need for vengeance. That’s just spiteful, irrational and quite unthinkable. So now we have a dilemma:

Those poor souls consigned to hell fire are – by definition – beyond correction. So why continue to punish them? Either to take a spiteful revenge or for no reason at all, and where does that leave our view of God?

I suspect that the whole notion of hell fire and damnation was thought up by clerics to persuade gullible souls out of the urge to be naughty. Well, it didn’t persuade those supposedly pious but rather nasty Normans, did it? No doubt it was why Duke William was really very, very sorry when he knew he was getting near the end. (I mean, look what he did to my ancestors, some of whom came from the north and were no doubt well harried.) He must have felt that building a few abbeys and churches wouldn’t be quite enough to get him off the hook, especially since Norman architecture was a bit prone to partial collapse anyway. Is it surprising that his stomach burst when they forced him into his coffin? I think not. 

But I’m moving away from the point now, which is what happens when you have a capricious and lazy brain, so I’m shutting up.

*  *  *

Except to say that I intend to wear the same shirt tomorrow as I did today, just so nobody smiles at me and I won’t have to help them out of any ditches.


Madeline said...

Don't forget 3. To deter others from committing the same offense.

As for the rest, it seems to depend on whether you're talking about the Old Testament or New Testament God. To put it very plainly, OT God is uptight, NT God is chill. But I'm sure that each has his own contradictions as well.

JJ Beazley said...

You're quite right, Madeline. I stand corrected and appreciate your tact.

3. To deter others from committing the same offence.

It seems to me there's still a problem, though. The threat doesn't stop at 'burn in hell,' it goes on '...for all eternity.' That means even after the Day of Judgement when everything is settled, Satan is defeated, all means of temptation are removed, and sin no longer exists. Earthly life is at an end and so there is no longer anybody to deter, and yet people are still being punished. I think that brings us back to revenge.

Either that or God's reasoning runs: 'In order to deter people from committing offences, I have to threaten them with the direst of punishments. Sending them into the fire for a period isn't enough, it has to be for all time. And if I'm going to threaten it, I suppose I'll have to go through with it even when it no longer makes sense.' Could it be, I wonder, that God is only kidding? Maybe he is planning to nip down to hell after Armageddon and fetch everybody back. 'Hey, folks, it's Christmas. There's nobody left to supervise you down here and I was kidding all along anyway. All aboard the elevator, and no pushing.'

Further notes:

1. This whole thread is complicated by the Catholics inventing Purgatory.

2. I once asked the vicar: 'But suppose Satan wins.' (I was about twelve at the time.)

'He won't,' replied the Rev Dunnet.

'How do you know?'

'Because God is all mighty and can't lose.'

'Then Satan must know that, too. So why does he continue to oppose God if he knows he can't win?'

'He's arrogant and deludes himself into thinking he *can* win.'

'Are you sure?'


'OK. Erm...'

That's the edited down version.

3. The last time I asked a Christian: 'Which God do you mean? The Old Testament God or the New Testament God?' she became quite upset. This could lead to the relating of another question and answer session with the Rev Dunnet, but it can wait. (Except to say that his final word was 'God changed his mind.'